A sensual glance

2012-09-29 16:03

The most spankable bum in Western art must truly belong to Diego Velázquez’s lush depiction of The Rokeby Venus.

It hangs at London’s National Gallery and was painted more than 350 years ago in Spain.

This was at the height of the inquisition when one of Spain’s most iron-fisted priests, Félix Paravicino, was demanding that all nude paintings be burnt.

He was convinced such sensual artworks were responsible for all sorts of moral corruption.

Velázquez’s delicious image of a reclining Venus seen from the rear, with Cupid holding up a mirror for her, was produced for the private indulgence of wealthy patrons.

The church’s grip on our sensual lives has since ebbed, thankfully. Hence, Velázquez’s tribute to a beautiful booty, the most aesthetically pleasing posterior ever put on canvas, has since seen others follow in its wake.

Artists have been producing all manner of erotic art for centuries.

The artistic fascination with all things sensual is covered in everything from poetry to plastic.

Ever since Sir Richard Burton – that excitable English explorer with a taste for oriental treats – brought the Hindu love manual, the Kama Sutra, to the attention of the Western world, Indian sexual depictions have been titillating the tastes of art lovers across the world.

Its images are mostly intended as illustrations, so, apart from their carnal theme, their strength is in their quality as drawings.

These include their compositional clarity and line sensitivity, along with their makers’ use of colour.

Augmenting this Indian catalogue of sexy art, of course, are the sculptures of deities like the famous one depicting Vishnu and Lakshmi at a temple near Khajuraho in India.

There’s also the genre of miniature paintings that depict love scenes in general.

Running parallel to the Indian catalogue is the Japanese stock of woodcuts that hit the world at the turn of the last century.

These are delicate pieces made on rice paper with fascinating skill.

Artists have celebrated and interrogated sensuality in disparately varied ways, and have never lost sight of the potential of erotic imagery to create or advance controversy.

We’ve benefited from works like American painter Scott Seidman’s Baptism or The Masturbating Saint.

He reinterprets Christian images with a sensual slant.

So John the Baptist doesn’t dunk his subject abruptly into the water.

Instead, the holy sacrament unfolds with slow and delicate loving gestures.

Edvard Munch’s Puberty placed art lovers’ focus on the appearance of a youthful girl in the bewilderment and confusion of learning about her changing body.

Art photographers like Britain’s Tony Butcher have ventured into the gay world to uncover startling celebrations of the human body. His 1996 work Studies In Black is only the tip of the iceberg.

These are brave public works made so that, while in the throes of private pleasure, we may know the meaning of the lines in Edward Lucie-Smith’s poem, Undressing: “The heat in the room is not / Merely the fire or the drink ...”

For a gallery of pics, go to: www.citypress.co.za/Multimedia

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